My Kind of Country

Country music from a fan's point of view since 2008

Tag Archives: Jay Lee Webb

Classic Rewind: Loretta Lynn and family – ‘The Great Titanic’

Today is the anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic:

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Spotlight Artist: Crystal Gayle

600x600For someone who had three siblings who were country performers, Crystal Gayle isn’t all that country. That shouldn’t be a surprise, I suppose, because by the time Brenda Gail Webb arrived into the Webb family on January 9, 1951, the family’s circumstances had changed. Very shortly thereafter the family would relocate to Wabash, Indiana, a long way from the coal mines of Kentucky.

Consequently, Brenda was raised in the city, unlike the upbringing of her singing siblings Loretta (b. 1934), Jay Lee Webb (1937-1996) and Peggy Sue Wright (b. 1943). Like her siblings, Brenda (renamed Crystal Gayle at the suggestion of her sister Loretta) got her start with Decca/MCA records. Unlike her siblings, who were hardcore country singers, Crystal was more pop-oriented. Although Decca pushed her to be a Loretta Lynn clone, Loretta recognized that Crystal could not (and should not) be a Loretta Lynn clone.

I first saw Crystal in 1970 on a package show. At the time she was working her first hit “I’ve Cried (The Blue Right Out of My Eyes)”, which just missed the top twenty. Although I enjoyed her singing, I felt that she was miscast as a hard country singer.

Although her first hit was written by Loretta, Crystal accent was far less rural than Loretta’s, and Crystal’s vocals were not too convincing on her follow up singles for Decca. Encouraged by Loretta to seek her own style, Crystal left Decca for United Artists where her run of success began in earnest.

Crystal’s first United Artist single “Restless”, barely broke the top thirty, but after two more singles just cracked the top thirty, the fourth single “Wrong Road Again” got to #8, followed by her first #1 in 1976, “I’ll Get Over You”.

After that the Crystal Gayle express moved into high gear racking up nineteen songs that reached #1 on Billboard, Cashbox and/or Record World. Her biggest hit, of course was 1977’s “Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue” which spent four weeks at number 1 (and three weeks at #2 on the pop charts). Through 1990 she charted fifty-two singles.

Crystal’s run of top ten singles ran from 1975 through 1987. She changed labels several times along the way, making it difficult to collect all of her hits, but it is worth the effort

I could describe Crystal Gayle as pop-country, middle of the road, pop standards, straight Adult Contemporary or Nashville sound, but whatever the description or verbiage used to describe her, Crystal Gayle is an exquisite singer whose every song was tackled with intelligence and great thought given to song selections and the musical accompaniment and the arrangements.

All of her albums contain strong material. We hope you enjoy our review of the career of our January Spotlight Artist Crystal Gayle, one of the finest female vocalists of the last fifty years, and as of January 21st, the newest member of the Grand Ole Opry.

Classic Rewind: Jay Lee Webb – ‘A Whole Lot Of Nothing (But Memories Of You)’

The brother of Loretta Lynn and Crystal Gayle:

Album Review: Loretta Lynn – ‘Fist City’

fist cityThe lead single of Loretta’s 1968 album Fist City, ‘What Kind Of Girl (Do You Think I Am)?’, a plaintive tune written by Loretta with Teddy Wilburn, was a top 5 single in 1967. It’s a nice song, but not one which is remembered today – perhaps because its subject matter now seems old fashioned, with the demure protagonist reproving her sweetheart for wanting to anticipate their wedding vows:

You want me to prove my love for you
I’m surprised that’s the way you’re askin’ me to
You’ve known me so long I can’t understand
What kind of a girl do you think I am?

What kind of a girl do you want for a wife?
Do you want a girl who knows that much about life?
Well, if that’s what you want
Take me out of your plan
What kind of a girl do you think I am?

What kind of a girl would do the things
You’re askin’ me to, without wedding rings
Is it what you must do to prove you’re a man?
What kind of a girl do you think I am?

It was also soon overshadowed by the title track, which became the record’s second single, and is one of Loretta’s classic self-penned hits. Positively aggressive in its takedown of a real life romantic rival who apparently had eyes for Loretta’s husband Doolittle, it typifies the sassy attitude and self-confidence which Loretta had previously exhibited on ‘You Ain’t Woman Enough (To Take My Man)’:

You’ve been makin’ your brags around town that you’ve been a lovin’ my man
But the man I love when he picks up trash, he puts it in a garbage can
And that’s what you look like to me and what I see’s a pity
You’d better close your face and stay out of my way
If you don’t wanta go to Fist City

If you don’t wanna go to Fist City you’d better detour round my town
Cause I’ll grab you by the hair of the head and I’ll lift you off of the ground
I’m not a sayin’ my baby’s a saint cause he ain’t
And that he won’t cat around with a kitty
I’m here to tell you gal to lay off of my man if you don’t wanna go to Fist City

Come on and tell me what you told my friends if you think you’re brave enough
And I’ll show you what a real woman is since you think you’re hot stuff
You’ll bite off more than you can chew if you get too cute or witty
You better move your feet if you don’t wanna eat a meal that’s called Fist City

Loretta’s vocal has an almost playful quality to it which belies the violence, and makes the song highly enjoyable.

‘I’m Shootin’ For Tomorrow’, another Lynn composition, is a vivacious mid-tempo number about writing off an old relationship:

Well I used to think you was the only man
But I’ve found out you’re not
So I’m a shootin’ for tomorrow
‘Cause today’s already shot
I used to keep the home fires burnin’
But I let ’em all go out

No song on this album is longer than three minutes; this one is under two minutes, as is ‘You Didn’t Like My Lovin’, written by Loretta with Teddy Wilburn and Joe “Red” Hayes. This one’s protagonist has happily moved on to someone new and sends her ex away with a flea in his ear. Loretta also covers Hayes’ country gospel classic a Satisfied Mind.

‘Somebody’s Back In Town’ was a hit for the Wilburn Brothers in 1959, although for some reason iTunes credits Loretta as their co-writer (I believe it was really Don Helms). This is an excellent song I know from Chris Hillman’s 1980s cover, and Loretta does the pained ballad justice with an emotional reading.

The best-known cover, Tammy Wynette’s recent #1 hit ‘I Don’t Wanna Play House’, is also sung very believably; if Loretta had got the song first I am sure she could have ahd a hit with it herself. Tammy and Norma Jean both had contemporary cuts of ‘Jackson Ain’t A Very Big Town’, a ballad about a newly wed in a small town where the dating pool is small and rumours fly.

Loretta’s brother Jay Lee Webb contributed ‘You Never Were Mine’, a nice resigned ballad about a breakup.

‘I’ve Got Texas In My Heart’ is a Western style tune which doesn’t really suit Loretta, and ‘How Long Will It Takes’ is s filler with dated backing vocals.

Overall, though, this is an excellent album from Loretta at her peak.

Grade: A

Album Review: Loretta Lynn – ‘I Like ‘Em Country’

i like em countryLoretta’s fifth album was released in 1966. The material is very much along the same lines as its predecessors, with a lot of covers, but all very high quality. It was the first of her records to have two singles, which may be an indicator of her growing commercial appeal.

The plaintive ‘The Home You’re Tearing Down’, addressed to the other woman who is breaking up the protagonist’s marriage, was a top 10 hit, written for Loretta by Betty Sue Perry. Although it’s not remembered as one of Loretta’s best known hits today, it’s a stellar example of pure country music. Betty Sue also wrote ‘Go On And Go’, an excellent response to the man in the story:

Between your passion and your pride, you’re half a man
I don’t want your kiss without your sweet love too
Go on and go
If you need her like I need you

The controversial ‘Dear Uncle Sam’, the only song on the album written by Loretta, was a bold and topical choice for a single, and peaked at #4. US ground troops had been deployed in Vietnam since March 1965, and in August of that year married men also became subject to conscription, as increasing numbers of US soldiers were needed to fight in that controversial war. Loretta’s emotional song does not debate the merits of the war itself at all, but movingly shows the effects on one woman whose husband is called on to fight, and who is killed in action.

Loretta recorded her brother Jay Lee Webb’s song ‘Today Has Been Day’, a mournful tale of lost love and unsatisfactory refuge in a neon-lit bar. Jay Lee was about to launch his own attempt at a country career.

As usual a lot of covers were included. Ernest Tubb’s ‘It’s Been So Long Darling’ had been a hit for Loretta’s duet partner some 20 years earlier. Loretta’s version of this sweet song about an impending reunion of lovers (whose original context was that of the end of the Second World War) is very good, and is an interesting counterpoint to ‘Dear Uncle Sam’, where the reunion can never happen.

The Hank Williams classic ‘Your Cheatin’ Heart’, one of the greatest songs of all time, is always good to hear, and Loretta offers a fine reading. Country standard ‘If Teardrops Were Pennies’ is nicely done too, and Johnny Cash’s ‘Cry, Cry, Cry’ gets an energetic workout. ‘Jealous Heart’, another much- recorded tune is also beautifully performed, with some interesting organ backing.

The tongue in cheek ‘Two Mules Pull This Wagon’ was written by Johnny Russell is a highly entertaining song with a housewife complaining that her husband doesn’t appreciate her hard work at home:

Well, you come home most every night as grouchy as can be
And start right in a pickin’ on our little kids and me
I’m sick and tired of hearin’ how your work keeps you a braggin’
Cause you seem to forget big boy that two mules pull this wagon

Yeah two mules pull this wagon
You don’t do it by yourself
I know you’ve got a heavy load
But I give you lots of help
I do my share of pullin’ and I don’t mean to be braggin’
But you seem to forget big boy that two mules pull this wagon

Well, I guess you think while you’re at work I sit and watch TV
But you’d learn different, honey, if you’d spend one day with me
I’m washin’, ironin’, cookin’, sewin’, and find time for your naggin’

The attitude is the kind of song many listeners expect from Loretta, and it is a fine example of its kind.

‘Sometimes You Just Can’t Win’ was written by Smokey Stover, a songwriter and DJ who issued a few honky tonk singles himself (plus a novelty song about Jimmy Hoffa). A wonderful sad song about losing at love, it had been recorded by George Jones a few years earlier.

Most of the album has a timeless classic country feel. Only the vivacious ‘Hurtin’ For Certain’ feels dated, thanks to the backing vocals.

It is available on a 2-4-1 CD with Blue Kentucky Girl. The package is well worth picking up.

Grade: A-

Spotlight Artist: Loretta Lynn in the 1960s

loretta lynnBack in 2008, when Kevin Coyne was still running Country Universe essentially on his own, he undertook a number of exhausting projects, including his capstone series 100 Greatest Women. Kevin did an incredible amount of research, unearthed a number of otherwise forgotten performers and provided nice capsules of the artists on his list. I would strongly recommend checking out his series.

That said, the one thing Kevin got wrong in his series is that he did not place Loretta Lynn at the top of his hit parade (he had her at #2). To one who has been following country music since the early 1960s, Loretta Lynn is clearly the most important female artist of all-time. Although her most important decade in changing the direction of the genre was the 1970s, the 1960s are where her career got started and where the first signs of her eventual significance began to manifest themselves.

Loretta was born in 1932 into a family of very modest means, the daughter of a Kentucky coal miner. Loretta’s family contained considerable musical talent, with three siblings (Peggy Sue Wright, Jay Lee Webb and Crystal Gayle) ultimately having some success in country music.

Like many people in show business, Loretta shaved a few years off her age upon becoming famous. She actually was fifteen years old when she married Oliver (known as “Doolittle” or “Doo”) Lynn in 1948. The couple got busy in producing a family and before Loretta turned twenty-one, she had become a mother of four. Ultimately, she would have six children, the last two (twins Peggy and Patsy) arriving over a dozen years after the first four.

Loretta and Doolittle moved to the Pacific Northwest in pursuit of better economic opportunities and while living there Loretta began singing in local clubs in the Tacoma, Washington area. Among her live performances, she won a televised talent contest hosted by the soon to be famous Alvis Edgar “Buck” Owens. Canadian Norman Burley saw her and formed Zero Records to record her performances. Her first four recordings were “I’m A Honky Tonk Girl”, “Whispering Sea”, “Heartache Meet Mister Blues”, and “New Rainbow”. Her first release featured “Whispering Sea” and “I’m A Honky Tonk Girl”, with the latter song becoming a Billboard hit reaching #14. A move to Nashville brought her to the attention of the Wilburn Brothers who helped her land a contract with Decca Records. With this break she was on her way, as a performer and a songwriter. In 1962 she joined the Grand Ole Opry. She also made appearances on the Ernest Tubb Midnight Jamboree and became a regular on the Wilburn Brothers’ television show.

Success came rapidly for Loretta and as was common for the leading country artists of the 1960s, Decca recorded Loretta relentlessly. Loretta’s 1960s albums are as follows:

Loretta Lynn Sings (December 1963)
Before I’m Over You (June 1964)
Songs From My Heart (February 1965)
Blue Kentucky Girl (June 1965)
Mr. & Mrs. Used To Be (August 1965) – with Ernest Tubb
Hymns (August 1965)
I Like ‘Em Country (March 1966)
You Ain’t Woman Enough (September 1966)
Country Christmas (October 1966)
Don’t Come Home A-Drinkin’ (February 1967)
Ernest Tubb & Loretta Lynn Singin’ Again (June 1967)
Singin’ With Feelin’ (October 1967)
Who Says God Is Dead (February 1968)
Fist City (April 1968)
Greatest Hits (June 1968)
Your Squaw Is On The Warpath (February 1969)
If We Put Our Heads Together (June 1969) – with Ernest Tubb
Woman of The World/ To Make A Man (June 1969)

That’s seventeen albums of new material plus a hits collection (I think the Zero recordings showed up on a budget label release not listed above). Although we would like to, we obviously we cannot review all of these albums. We hope you enjoy the albums we have chosen to present this month, the opening salvos in the career of one of the truly legendary figures in country music.

Classic Rewind: Jay Lee Webb – ‘She’s Lookin’ Better by The Minute’

The song starts a couple of minutes in.

Reissues wish list part 2: MCA and Decca

webb pierceFor most of the Classic Country era, the big four of country record labels were Decca /MCA, RCA, Columbia and Capitol. Of these labels, MCA/Decca has done the poorest job of keeping their artists’ catalogues alive in the form of reissues.

When speaking of the big four labels we will need to define terms.
MCA/Decca refers to recordings released on MCA, Decca, Brunswick and for some periods, Vocalion.

During the 1940s, 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, Decca (later MCA) can be argued as having the strongest roster of artists. Such titans as Ernest Tubb, Red Foley, Webb Pierce, Conway Twitty, Jack Greene, Bill Anderson, Jimmy Martin, The Osborne Brothers, Bill Monroe, Patsy Cline, Kitty Wells and Loretta Lynn frequently dominated the charts with many strong second tier acts such as The Wilburn Brothers, Jimmie Davis, Roy Drusky, Jimmie C. Newman, Johnny Wright, Cal Smith, Bill Phillips, Crystal Gayle, Jeanie Seely, Jan Howard and Red Sovine passing through the ranks at various times. Crystal Gayle, of course, became a major star in the late 1970s and 1980s

In the early digital days MCA had virtually nothing of their classic artists available aside from some Loretta Lynn, Bill Monroe and Conway Twitty discs. Then in 1991 they started their County Music Hall of Fame Series, showcasing artists elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame. Unfortunately, because of industry politics, their biggest stars, Webb Pierce and Conway Twitty, had not yet been elected.

Each of the discs contained fifteen or sixteen tracks or about 38 minutes of music. Many of the CDs featured artists who had not been on Decca for many years, and many featured artists who just passed through on their way to bigger and better things or had been bigger stars in the past. Among the CDS in the series were The Carter Family (on Decca 1937-1938), Jimmie Davis, Red Foley, Grandpa Jones (with Decca in the late 1950s – several remakes of King label hits), Loretta Lynn, Uncle Dave Macon (a real old-timer), Tex Ritter (1930s recordings), Roy Rogers, Sons of The Pioneers (with Decca during the 1930s and again in 1954), Hank Thompson (ABC/Dot recordings of the late 1960s and 1970s – MCA purchased the ABC & Dot labels – Hank never actually recorded for MCA/Decca). Floyd Tillman (1939-1944), Ernest Tubb, Kitty Wells, Bill Monroe and Bob Wills (Bob’s best years were on Columbia and MGM). The Bob Wills recordings were 1955-1967 recordings on the Decca & Kapp labels – the Kapp recordings usually featured Nashville session players with no real feel for swing and are the least essential recordings Wills ever made.

Each of the CDs mentioned above are undeniably worthy, but are either inadequate or not representative of the artists’ peaks.

Some MCA/Decca artists have been covered by Bear Family, most notably Ernest Tubb, Kitty Wells, Bill Monroe, Bill Anderson, Jimmy Martin and The Osborne Brothers. One could wish for more on some of these artists, but what is available generally is enough; however, it is expensive. Good two-disc sets would be desirable.

During the 1960s, Decca had their artists re-record their hits in order to take advantage of modern stereo technology, since for artists who peaked before 1957, such as Kitty Wells, Ernest Tubb, Webb Pierce and Red Foley, their biggest hits were recorded in monaural sound. An additional consideration for Ernest Tubb was that his then-current band was larger and better with musicians such as Billy Byrd and Buddy Emmons (to name just two) being members of the band. In the case of Ernest Tubb, the re-recordings were superior to the original string band recordings.

In the case of most other artists, I think the originals were better BUT for many years the original recordings were not available and listeners of my generation grew up hearing the stereo remakes whether on records or on the radio. Since the digital era began the stereo remakes have been unavailable except on Bear Family sets. It would be nice if the stereo remakes were available, and it would be nice if MCA/Decca artists were available on decent domestic collections.

Webb Pierce – several domestic releases of Webb Pierce’s hits are available but they generally contain about a dozen songs, all from the 1950s. There is a Bear Family set that covers up to 1958 – it’s great but it misses all of Webb’s lesser later hits. Webb was the #1 country artist of the 1950s according to Billboard, and while he slipped thereafter, he was still the sixth ranked artist of the 1960s with many hits, including a couple of Record World #1s. None of this has been released on CD. What is needed is a good three CD set gathering up Webb’s 1960s (and early 1970s) chart hits plus key album tracks and the stereo remakes of the fifties hits.

For as widely popular as she was. you would expect much of Barbara Mandrell‘s output to be available. Barbara moved from Epic to ABC/Dot and when ABC/Dot was absorbed by MCA, her music was issued on that label. Barbara had 30+ hits for ABC/Dot/MCA with many #1 and top five recordings. Currently, not much is available and she warrants a boxed set.

Jack Greene and Cal Smith both had fairly late starts to their solo careers. While there exist a few hit collections for each artist (on foreign labels), neither is very complete, leaving off key songs. For Cal Smith, since Kapp and MCA are both owned by the same company, a two disc set collecting Cal’s Kapp & MCA/Decca singles should suffice (possibly a single disc with about thirty tracks would be okay).

For Jack Greene, more is needed since Jack had over thirty chart singles for Decca and issued at least fourteen albums plus a hits collection while on MCA/Decca. Jack was a superior vocalist and his albums contain recordings of others’ hits that often were better than the original hits. While not a hit for Jack, his version of “The Last Letter” is the definitive recording of the song.

The Osborne Brothers were bluegrass innovators, developing an almost unique (Jim & Jesse were doing something similar) bluegrass and country hybrid with bluegrass instruments augmented by electric guitar, steel guitar and sometimes other amplified instruments. After leaving MCA/Decca for CMH and other labels, the Osborne Brothers went back to a more traditional bluegrass approach. Almost none of that classic hybrid material is available except for a gospel CD and an excellent but short (ten songs) collection titled Country Bluegrass which seems randomly put together. No bluegrass group ever has huge numbers of hit records on the country charts, but the Osborne Brothers did chart quite a few and they should be available domestically. I would think a single disc set of thirty tracks would be acceptable, although more would be better, of course.

Johnny Wright is better know as part of the duo Johnny & Jack (with Jack Anglin), but after Anglin’s death in 1963, Wright embarked on a successful solo career which saw the release of at least six albums on MCA/Decca plus twelve chart singles including the #1 “Hello Vietnam” , the first chart topper for a Tom T. Hall song. Johnny’s wife was Kitty Wells, and while he never reached her level of success as a solo artist, apparently it never bothered Wright as he and Kitty were married from 1937 until his death in 2011 at the age of 97. A good single disc collection would suffice here.

The bulk of Little Jimmy Dickens’ career occurred for another label, but his time on MCA/Decca saw the release of two albums of new material plus an album featuring remakes of his earlier hits. The Decca albums featured a staple of Jimmy’s live shows “I Love Lucy Brown” and an amusing novelty “How To Catch An African Skeeter Alive”. I think most of this would fit on a single CD.

Wilma Burgess was an excellent singer who came along about four decades too soon. While Wilma did not flaunt being lesbian, neither did she particularly hide it. Consequently, she never got much of a commercial push from her label. Many have recorded “Misty Blue” but none did it as well as Wilma Burgess. She recorded at least five albums for MCA/Decca plus some duets with Bud Logan, former band leader for Jim Reeves. A decent two disc set of this outstanding singer should be easy to compile.

I would like to see a collection on Loretta Lynn’s siblings, Peggy Sue and Jay Lee Webb. Since Loretta’s other well known sibling started on MCA/Decca as well, it should be possible to do a good two CD set of Loretta’s kinfolks. Jay Lee Webb’s “She’s Looking Better By The Minute” is an all-time honky-tonk classic.

Spotlight Artist: Pam Tillis

pamtillisBeing related to a famous country entertainer can be a mixed blessing. Although the family ties can open doors for the aspiring singer, they can also serve to set unrealistic expectations. Just ask Roy Acuff Jr., Ronnie Robbins (billed as Marty Robbins, Jr.), The Lynns (daughters of Loretta Lynn), Riley Coyle (daughter of Jeannie C. Riley), Pake McEntire (Reba’s brother), Jay Lee Webb (Loretta Lynn’s brother), Peggy Sue (Loretta Lynn’s sister), and Hillman Hall (Tom T. Hall’s brother), each of whom issued an album or two and then disappeared. John Carter Cash has avoided the problem entirely by working behind the scenes.

Then there are those who achieve modest success and carve out respectable careers but never achieve top-drawer status, such as Shelly West (daughter of Dottie West), David Frizzell (brother of Lefty Frizzell), Tommy Cash (brother of Johnny Cash), Carlene Carter (daughter of Carl Smith and June Carter) and Thom Bresh (son of Merle Travis). Jazz guitarist Lenny Breau, son of country stars Hal Lone Pine and Betty Cody, might have fit into this category had he not died young.

True superstar success for those with famous kinfolk is indeed rare. The three biggest that come to mind are Crystal Gayle (Loretta Lynn’s sister), Lynn Anderson (the daughter of songwriter Casey & singer-songwriter Liz Anderson) and Hank Williams Jr. Pulling up behind these three are George Morgan’s daughter Lorrie, Rosanne Cash and this month’s spotlight artist, Pam Tillis.

Pamela Yvonne Tillis was born on July 24, 1957 in Plant City, Florida, the daughter of singer-songwriter-actor-comedian Mel Tillis.

As the daughter of one of the best-known songwriters around, and living in Nashville, Tillis was exposed to the elite of the country music industry even before her father had achieved recording star status. She made her Grand Ole Opry debut at the age of eight in an appearance with her father singing “Tom Dooley.” She grew up wanting to be a performer and tried her hand at songwriting at an early age and also found some work as a background singer. The results of an automobile accident at age 16 derailed her career for a while as several years of reconstructive facial surgery were needed to restore her appearance. Following her surgeries, Tillis enrolled at the University of Tennessee; then later at Belmont University in Nashville, TN, forming her first band. Since her only real interest was music, she eventually dropped out of college to pursue her own musical career.

Wanting to make it “on her own,” Tillis went to San Francisco where she joined a jazz-rock band Freelight.

After tiring of the San Francisco scene, she returned to Nashville and found work as a demo singer. She signed with Warner Brothers. in 1982, where she took a shot at pop success. Her sole album for Warner Brothers was Above and Beyond The Doll of Cutey. During the period between 1983 and ’87, Warner Brothers would issue at least eight singles on Tillis, five of which charted on Billboard’s Country chart, although none made the Top 50–not surprising since they were not being marketed as country singles. Unreleased were early versions of several of her later hits, which were released after she achieved success.

During this period, Tillis signed on as a staff songwriter with Tree Publishing in Nashville, where she shifted her focus to contemporary country music and achieved much success as a songwriter, with artists as diverse as Chaka Khan, Martina McBride, Gloria Gaynor, Conway Twitty, Holly Dunn, Juice Newton, Sweethearts of the Rodeo, Dan Seals, and Highway 101 recording her songs.

Her visibility was greatly improved when she started making regular appearances on shows aired on the late lamented Nashville Network, especially on Nashville Now, a nightly variety show hosted by Ralph Emery. By 1991 she had signed with Arista Records, where her career took off. For part of this period (until 1998) she was married to fellow songwriter Bob DiPiero.

The Arista years saw Tillis emerge as a steady and reliable hit-maker as the following list demonstrates:

•“Don’t Tell Me What To Do” / “Melancholy Child” – #5 (1990)

•“One Of Those Things” / “Already Fallen – #6 (1991)

•“Put Yourself In My Place” / “I’ve Seen Enough To Know” – #11 (1991)

•“Maybe It Was Memphis” / “Draggin’ My Chains” – #3 (1991)

•“Blue Rose Is” / “Ancient History” – #21 (1992)

•“Shake The Sugar Tree” / “Maybe It Was Memphis” #3 (1992)

•“Let That Pony Run” / “Fine Fine Very Fine Love” – #4 (1992)

•“Cleopatra Queen Of Denial” / “Homeward Looking Angel” – #11 (1993)

•“Do You Know Where Your Man Is” / “We’ve Tried Everything Else” – #16 (1993)

•“Spilled Perfume” / “Till All The Lonely’s Gone” – #5 (1994)

•“When You Walk In The Room” / “Till All The Lonely’s Gone” – #2 (1994)

•“Mi Vida Loca (My Crazy Life)” / “Ancient History” – #1 (1994)

•“I Was Blown Away” / “Calico Plains” – #16 (1995)

•“In Between Dances” / “They Don’t Make ‘Em Like They Used To” – #3 (1995)

•“Deep Down” / “Tequila Mockingbird” – #6 (1995)

•“River And The Highway” / “All Of This Love” – #8 (1996)

•“It’s Lonely Out There” / “You Can’t Have A Good Time Without Me” – #14 (1996)

•“All The Good Ones Are Gone” / “Land Of The Living” – #4 (1997)

•“I Said A Prayer” / “Lay The Heartache Down” – #12 (1998)

•“Every Time” / “You Put The Lonely On Me” – #38 (1998)

After 1998, the hits started drying up as the next wave of young performers arrived.

Tillis’ Arista albums were generally quite successful, starting with 1991’s Put Yourself In My Place which had three Top 10 hits in lead single, “Don’t Tell Me What to Do,” “One of Those Things” and “Maybe It Was Memphis.” The album ultimately reached gold status.

Her 1992 follow-up Homeward Looking Angel was equally successful, with “Shake the Sugar Tree” and “Let That Pony Run” reaching the Top 5. Homeward Looking Angel reached platinum status. In 1993, she won her first major award: the CMA Awards’ Vocal Event of the Year with George Jones and Friends for “I Don’t Need Your Rockin’ Chair.”

In 1994, her third Arista album, Sweetheart’s Dance, was released, reaching #6 on the Billboard’s Country Album chart (her highest placement). Singles “Spilled Perfume” and “When You Walk in the Room” both became Top 5 hits and she had her only #1, “Mi Vida Loca (My Crazy Life),” helping push the album to platinum status.

Issued in late 1996, All of This Love, became Tillis’ last gold non-compilation album. The only single to reach Top 10 status was “The River and The Highway.” It was the first album she produced on her own.

In 1997, Arista released her first (actually only) Greatest Hits album. The compilation featured two new tracks, both released as singles: “All the Good Ones Are Gone” and “The Land of the Living,” both of which reached the Top 5 in 1997. This collection also went platinum.

After 1997, the country music market shifted, becoming more youth-oriented and less country, with a resultant drop in both chart and sales success for Tillis. Her 1998 album Every Time featured “I Said A Prayer”, which just missed the Top 10 and was her last Top 20 single. Her last Arista album, issued in 2001, Thunder & Roses performed reasonably well on the album chart (both it and Every Time reached #24) but generated no real hit singles.

Since 1998 Pam Tillis has remained active, both in live appearances, occasionally performing with her father Mel, and occasionally recording. She became a Grand Ole Opry member in 2000, which was several years before her father, and had the honor of inducting him into Opry membership. She has tried her hand at acting, both on stage and on television, with considerable success.

She still records occasionally. In 2002 she fulfilled a lifetime dream of recording an album of songs written by or associated with her father. Titled It’s All Relative, the album found Pam ignoring the Mel Tillis template and giving her own interpretation of her father’s material, most notably on “Heart Over Mind”.

She started her own record label, Stellar Cat, and issued her album Rhinestoned under that imprint in 2007. One of the singles from the album, “Band In The Window,” earned considerable acclaim, although the album ultimately yielded no hits.

All told, Pam Tillis had over 30 chart records including 13 Top 10s. In 1994 she was named the Country Music Association Female Vocalist of the Year. In 1999, she earned a Grammy Award for Best Country Collaboration with Vocals. When CMT did their countdown of the 40 Greatest Women of Country Music in 2002, Tillis ranked at #30. Kevin Coyne of Country Universe ranked her at #35 in his 100 Greatest Women of Country Music countdown in 2008.

Discography

With the exception of the Warner Brothers album, which originally was issued on vinyl and audio cassette, all of Tillis’ subsequent recordings have been released on CD. Most of the titles remain in print, others can be located used with a little bit of effort. Unlike country singers from generations before, the Pam Tillis catalog is fairly shallow with a total of a dozen original studio albums, plus some anthologies (Greatest Hits, Super Hits, Best Of, etc.) and whatever unreleased tracks may be lying around in somebody’s vault. Accordingly, collecting a fairly complete Pam Tillis collection isn’t that difficult, especially since her Warner Brothers debut recently was reissued on CD by Wounded Bird. All of her post-Warner Brothers albums are worthwhile and even her debut album (which I originally purchased on vinyl) has its moments.

The Ernest Tubb Record Shop currently has seven of her albums available as well as several anthologies.

There is a need for a decent two-disc set containing about 40 of her songs. Lately, the German label Bear Family has been issuing some less-than-exhaustive sets. Maybe they will step up to the plate –she’s worth a decent anthology.

Pam Tillis is still actively performing – you can catch  up with her at her website http://www.pamtillis.com/ . She does have some product for sale there as digital downloads including a Christmas album and a duet single (with Kris Thomas)  titled “Two Kings” which is about Elvis Presley and Martin Luther King, Jr. Her long-awaited duet album with Lorrie Morgan comes out later this month.

Favorite country songs of the 1970s, Part 8

Here are some more songs that I like; one song per artist, not necessarily his or her biggest hit. As always, I consider myself free to comment on other songs by the artist.

Another Somebody Done Somebody Wrong Song” – Billy Joe “B.J.” Thomas (1975)
His biggest country hit reached #1 and also topped the pop charts. Despite his long-time appeal to country audiences this song was his first to chart country.

Next Time I Fall In Love (I Won’t)” – Hank Thompson (1971)
This song got to #15, Hank’s 59th chart hit. Hank never lost his vocal chops. Hank charted records from 1948 to 1983, a total of seventy-nine songs, including two top tens in “The Older The Violin, The Sweeter The Music” and “Who Left The Door To Heaven Open”. Hank Thompson was so highly regarded in his day that George Strait made one of his very few guest appearances on one of Hank’s albums.

Smooth Sailin’”/ “Last Cheater’s Waltz” – Sonny Throckmorton (1976)
Sonny wasn’t much of a singer and this record only reached #47. He was, however, one heck of a songwriter, and T. G. Sheppard took both of these songs into the top ten. His most famous copyright probably is “I Wish I Was Eighteen Again” which was a major hit for George Burns in 1980.

What Time of Day” – Billy ThunderKloud & The Chieftones (1975)
Billy and his group were native Indian musicians from Northwest British Columbia. This song reached #16, the biggest of their five chart hits.

“Midnight, Me and the Blues” – Mel Tillis (1974)
Just a song I happened to like, one of 24 top ten hits Mel would chart during the 70s. This song reached #2, one of twelve top ten hits on MGM. Mel had a long career in country music, with a recording career that saw chart records from 1958-1989, but he was never better than during his years with MGM.

It’s A Man’s World” – Diana Trask (1973)
Australian born singer, first charted in 1968 with “Lock Stock and Tear Drops.” This record reached #20, one of four top twenty hits.

“I’ve Got All The Heartaches I Can Handle” – Ernest Tubb (1973)
The last MCA/Decca chart hit for the legendary Texas Troubadour. This record only reached #93 for the then 59 year-old Tubb. His recording career was kaput by this time, but not his legacy. This wasn’t quite the end of his recording career as he charted several more songs on other labels, the most noteworthy being “Leave Them Boys Alone” (with Hank Williams, Jr. and Waylon Jennings) which reached #6 in 1983.

As long as there’s a honky-tonk, people will play “Set Up Two Glasses, Joe,” “Waltz Across Texas” and “Walking The Floor Over You.”

Delta Dawn” – Tanya Tucker (1972)
What else? Record World had this record reach #1 (Billboard #6/Cashbox #3). Tanya’s recordings through the end of 1974 are sometimes described as “American Gothic’s last stand.”

Sometimes” – Mary Lou Turner & Bill Anderson (1976)
This record reached #1 in early 1976, one of only two top ten records for Ms. Turner, both of them duets with “Whispering Bill” Anderson.

This Time I’ve Hurt Her More Than She Loves Me” – Conway Twitty (1976)
One of many #1 records Conway would enjoy during this decade. Yes, I know “Hello Darlin’“ was the biggie, but Conway had many records I liked better, including “I See The Want To In Your Eyes,” “I Can’t See Me Without You” and “How Much More Can She Stand.”

“Johnny One Time” – Kathy Twitty (1976)
This cover of a minor Willie Nelson hit works, but Kathy is not a compelling singer. The label on the 45 has her billed as ‘Jessica James.’ Kathy had three charting singles.

It’s a Heartache” – Bonnie Tyler (1978)
Raspy-voiced pop singer from Wales, this song reached #10 on the country charts, selling a million copies in the process.

Just When I Needed You Most” – Randy Vanwarmer (1979)
A few country stations gave this song some airplay, enabling it to reach #71 en route to selling a million copies.

“Until The End of Time” – Sharon Vaughn with Narvel Felts (1974)
Sharon isn’t a great singer and had much more success as a songwriter than as a performer. Narvel Felts, however, is a great singer and he salvages the record. This record was Sharon Vaughn’s only top 40 hit.

What Ain’t To Be Just Might Happen” – Porter Wagoner (1972)
Hard as it is to believe, this was Porter’s last solo top 10 recording, reaching #8 on Billboard and #6 on Cashbox. Another interesting record for Porter during this period is “The Rubber Room,” a record which Billboard failed to chart, but which spent seven weeks on Cashbox’s country chart (just missing the top 40).

When A Man Loves A Woman (The Way That I Love You)” – Billy Walker (1970)
Billy was never a dominant chart performer but he did have three consecutive singles reach #3 in 1970-71 and continued to have occasional top forty singles until 1975. In 1975, Billy signed with RCA–his short stint there produced “Word Games,” Billy’s last top ten single and one of my favorites.

Odds And Ends (Bits And Pieces)” – Charlie Walker (1974)
By 1974, it had been seven years since Charlie had a top 20 single. This was Charlie’s last charting song, dying at #66. The song and performance are quite effective, a remake of a Warren Smith hit from 1961 but by this time his recording career was completely dead.

If You Leave Me Tonight I’ll Cry” – Jerry Wallace (1972)
Jerry Wallace was more of a pop singer than a country singer. He had several huge pop/easy listening hits during the 1960s, but then hit lean times causing Jerry to re-launch his career as a country singer. This song got to #1 on all of the country charts, fueled by exposure on an episode of the popular television show Night Gallery.

Big Blue Diamond” – Jacky Ward (1972)
Recorded on the Target label, this song only got to #39 although it was really huge in some markets. This song landed him at Mercury where he had some bigger hits. The original version of this song has not been available for many years and none of the remakes have the sizzle of the original.

I’m Already Taken” – Steve Wariner (1978)
An early version of a song Wariner had more success with fifteen years later. This charted at #63, the first of many chart hits for Steve Wariner.

“Bottle of Wine” – Doc & Merle Watson (1973)
Legendary blind guitarist Doc Watson only charted twice, both times accompanied by his equally talented son Merle (1949-85). Anyone who has not heard Doc Watson truly has a gaping hole in their musical education. Fortunately, many of his fine albums remain in print.

The Old Man and His Horn” – Gene Watson (1977)
This is absolutely my favorite Gene Watson song, although it’s close between this song and 75 others. Gene was never quite the chart presence a singer of his enormous talent deserved, but he had a pretty strong run of top 10 records from 1975 to 1984, with four records making it to #1 on Billboard, Cashbox or Record World. This wasn’t one of the bigger hits, reaching #11 on both Billboard and Cashbox, but its strong New Orleans feel makes it perhaps Gene’s most distinctive hit record. My recommendation for those who want to delve deeper into Gene’s music is … buy everything!

I’ll Still Love You” – Jim Weatherly (1975)
Much better known as a songwriter; Ray Price recorded one album of nothing but Jim Weatherly songs and another album of mostly Jim Weatherly songs. Jim’s most famous song was “Midnight Train To Georgia,” which was a huge hit for Gladys Knight and the Pips. This was Jim’s only top 10 hit.

“The Happiness of Having You” – Jay Lee Webb (1971)
This was the last of three chart records for Loretta Lynn’s brother. Charley Pride would have a much bigger hit with this in 1976.

Dueling Banjos” – Eric Weissberg & Steve Mandell (1973)
Featured in the movie Deliverance, this song was written by Arthur “Guitar Boogie” Smith during the mid 1950s. There is an interesting back story arising out of the movie, as the producers of the movie tried to use the song without paying Smith any royalties. Smith sued (after first trying to negotiate and being stonewalled) – Weissberg testified at trial that he originally learned the song from a record his grandfather had of Don Reno and Arthur Smith playing the tune!

“Ballad of A Hillbilly Singer” – Freddy Weller (1972)
Freddy Weller was part of Paul Revere and The Raiders from 1967-71. He launched his country career in 1969 with a #1 Cashbox hit in “Games People Play” and continued to have top 10 country success for the next four years. A very successful songwriter with songs such as “Jam Up Jelly Tight” and “Dizzy” both being big pop hits for Tommy Roe. His biggest country copyright was “Lonely Women Make Good Lovers” which was a big hit for both Bob Luman and Steve Wariner. John Michael Montgomery, Reba McEntire, George Jones and countless others have recorded his songs.

This song was somewhat of an insider joke, containing instrumental signatures of artists such as Roy Acuff, David Houston, Johnny Cash, Ernest Tubb and Marty Robbins. Consequently it only reached #26, but I love the song. I would also commend “Perfect Stranger” to anyone who wants to check out Freddy Weller.

“Wild Side of Life” – Kitty Wells and Rayburn Anthony (1979)
Kitty Wells had no top forty hits during the 1970s. This was Kitty’s last charting record, her 81st chart hit. This record reached #60, and found Kitty interjecting answer verses into Rayburn’s recording of the old Hank Thompson hit. By the time this record hit, Kitty was 60 years old. In a few months she will turn 93. She still is the Queen of Country Music.

Country Sunshine” – Dottie West (1973)
Record World had this record reach #1, Cashbox and Billboard both had it at #2. If I recall correctly, this song was inspired by a Coca Cola commercial. Dottie was lost in the shuffle at RCA and later signed with United Artists where she had some huge hits on some of the most contrived material I’ve ever heard.

Una Paloma Blanca” – Slim Whitman (1977)
A cover of an international pop hit by the Dutch band George Baker Selection, Slim’s version did not chart, but it certainly showed off his vocal prowess.